Saunders: We like our politicians to woo us

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 19, 2012 

As college students in Atlanta, four female friends and I thought it would be a gas one night to go to a notorious gay club.

The deejay was slamming, the music was loud and the beer was cheap. What else is there for a happy life, I ask you?

Only two bad things happened the entire night: some guy, apparently considering her an interloper, kicked our friend Sonja.

And nobody hit on me.

Not that I was interested in any dude, but it would have been a bit of an ego boost and given me, for a change, a chance to be on the other side of a “Get lost, bub.”

That long-ago memory re-emerged Wednesday when I got stuck in the car after the Highway Patrol shut down traffic around the restaurant where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was wooing donors before heading to Charlotte to give a speech and woo more.

President Barack Obama has a trip scheduled here next week. Odds are great that he’ll return prior to November, as North Carolina again looms large in the presidential election.

Regardless of which candidate you love or loathe – or even if you don’t want either one – isn’t it a good feeling for North Carolina to be courted by the candidates and have them make promises and googly eyes at us?

When Mitt came, he visited only the Angus Barn, which is about as haute as cuisine gets around here. On future visits, though, to prove his “common man” bona fides, ol’ Mitt’ll probably ask to go to more low-brow regional eateries, like Golden Corral or Hardee’s, or medium-brow restaurants like Zydeco’s, where if you pick the right day you can get shrimp and grits for lunch. On a buffet.

Aside from boosting our egos a bit, though, do such visits mean anything substantive – to us or to the candidates?

Jarvis Hall, a political science professor at N.C. Central University, thinks they do.

“They do it because it works,” Hall said when asked why candidates come to either press the flesh or grab the dough. “It always helps when you can put a real person behind the campaign and the candidate. ... It makes it appear that he’s giving some attention to the state. Usually, the people who go to these events are already supporters, but a handful of people at campaign events are genuinely trying to make a decision.

“The feeling they get from the crowd and the candidate could help them make a decision.”

When is too much?

Yes, but could the frequent visits and the resulting traffic tie-ups backfire? Could voters whose autos are already running on fumes – as mine was – and who’re desperately trying to get to a gas station, get so ticked off at being delayed that they change their allegiance?

“There haven’t been any studies,” Hall laughed, but he guessed that “stuff like that has a minimal impact. They may be angry for a while ... but they’ll dismiss it as the cost of being courted. For a non-supporter, though, it may solidify their intention to vote against him or her.

Hall thinks we’ll see the candidates here “quite a bit” before November.

No doubt. It may be hard for Triangle residents to run into Biscuitville for a ham biscuit or a fried bologna sandwich without stepping over an Obama, a Romney or one of their surrogates.

If you’re unlucky enough to get caught in line behind one, tell him it’s customary that campaigners buy a round of sandwiches for the house. Trust me: if they want your vote bad enough, you may get a free lunch out of the deal.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.comor 919-836-2811

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